Jade House | February 15 | Cougar Chronicle

Dear K-6 Families,

Having a rigorous reading, writing and spelling program are one of our top priorities.  This year, we have a new phonemic awareness program called Orton-Gillingham.  This is a multi-sensory approach to learning.  This week, I asked Laura Apperson, our Teaching and Learning Coach (TLC) to briefly write about the program and ways parents can support their child’s learning.  

From Laura Apperson, Teaching and Learning Coach (TLC):

In a world of ever changing educational approaches to teaching literacy, one must stay abreast of what works best for reaching all students, with the goal of creating strong readers, writers, and spellers.  In order to obtain this goal, educators must ensure that all students have a solid foundation in phonemic and phonological awareness.  What is this, and what is the difference between the two?  How is that going to help my child when he/she is older?

Phonemic awareness begins prior to a child ever learning to read.  It is the basis for future reading, recognizing and manipulating individual sounds.  This is the precursor to learning to read, decoding words when presented in text.  Phonological awareness is the recognition and manipulation of spoken parts of words.  Put simply, students must first understand how sounds work within words and then move to blending sounds to create words.  

This year, our K-6 teachers were trained in the Orton-Gillingham approach to literacy instruction.  They worked diligently to learn new strategies and a multi-sensory approach to teaching phonemic awareness and phonics.  Our students were introduced to this approach beginning in August using a variety of strategies.  

In early grades, each weekly lesson introduces students to a new “feature” or rule for explicitly teaching a connection between letters and sounds.  Students practice this feature through a variety of experiences: writing letters in sand, tracing words on top of sandpaper or screens, saying sounds aloud, segmenting (breaking apart) words using hand or arm movements.  These tactile learning experiences have been researched and allow the brain to process and hold this information more effectively.  Once students have learned consistent rules and patterns, they can more easily decode unfamiliar words that they may encounter in reading.  

In upper elementary and middle school classes, students build upon a solid understanding of phonology by looking at the meaning behind words.  They study more advanced spelling rules, encoding (writing) and decoding (breaking apart) strategies using the seven syllable types, as well as Anglo-Saxon, Greek, and Latin roots and begin to understand the connections between words and contextual use.  This is a major stepping stone in preparing students for upper school, content-specific vocabulary.

As your child learns these new strategies in the classroom, feel free to supplement at home.  For younger children, have your child trace letters in shaving cream (messy, but loads of fun!); do jumping jacks as they say a letter and the corresponding sound; sing songs as they spell words; set out magnetic letters and have your child slap the letter with a fly swatter that corresponds to the sound you say; practice spelling words with sidewalk chalk or bathtub crayons.  For older students, play word games like Scrabble and Bananagram.  Who knew learning to read, write, and spell could be so much fun?!

It is a great day to be a Cougar!

Laura Apperson

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